‘I believe in … the life everlasting, Amen’
Timothy Cross concludes his series of studies in the simple, yet very profound,
early statement of Christian truth known as the Apostles’ Creed
The Bible divides time into two eras, namely the present age and the age to come. It uses various synonyms to describe the age to come, including ‘the kingdom of God’, ‘the kingdom of heaven’, ‘eternal life’ and ‘everlasting life’.
In the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, the age to come has invaded the present. Christ began it by proclaiming, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel’ (Mark 1:15). His miracles were evidence that something of that glorious age had arrived, although complete healing and a full undoing of the Fall still await the final manifestation of the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus came to give us life. He said, ‘I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10). The ‘life’ he was referring to is a glorious, new dimension, infinitely different from mere existence and biological life. It is a life of fellowship with God our maker.
Jesus said, ‘This is eternal life that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’ (John 17:3). Eternal life is an eternal relationship with God, which begins in this life when we put our faith in Christ, but transcends this life and continues for all eternity.
‘I believe in the life everlasting’. This final line of the Apostles’ Creed refers to that consummation – the completion of salvation which the Lord Jesus came to bring.
It speaks of a fellowship with God far greater than we have known in this age. It refers to perfect fellowship that will totally satisfy all our needs, hopes and yearnings. It will be fellowship in redeemed bodies, in a redeemed universe free from sin for ever.
Scripture is clear that the present age is not permanent. This world of time and space is not final. Jesus will come again and usher in the eternal age.
He will inaugurate the final resurrection and judgement, which will result in everlasting blessedness for all who belong to Jesus, and everlasting punishment for all who are outside him and his saving grace. ‘He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God rests upon him’ (John 3:36).
This final day of resurrection and judgement will manifest the glory of God’s mercy in the eternal salvation of the elect and the glory of his justice in the damnation of the reprobate for their wickedness.
This ‘life everlasting’ is the completion of God’s everlasting covenant of grace. It entails being ‘made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity’ (Shorter Catechism). It is all of God’s grace.
What will this ‘everlasting life’ be like? We have to say that it will be far better and greater than we can currently conceive or comprehend, for ‘no eye has seen nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Eternal blessedness cannot be separated from God himself, who is the fount of every blessing and who ‘hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness in and of himself’ (Westminster Confession).
Central to the apostle John’s privileged glimpse of the Christian’s coming glory is the fact that ‘the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them’ (Revelation 21:3).
Keeping God at the centre of our conception of everlasting life prevents our getting lost in a quagmire of details. ‘In thy presence there is fullness of joy; in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore’ (Psalm 16:11).
Emil Brunner wrote: ‘What is this eternal life? … The answer is, it is life with God, in God, from God; life in perfect fellowship. Therefore it is a life in love, it is love itself. It is life without the nature of death and of sin, hence without sorrow, pain, anxiety, care, misery. To know this suffices to make one rejoice in eternal life’ (Our Faith, p. 121).
Similarly, John Calvin wrote that in the life to come all Christians, ‘will have true and complete perfection of life, light and righteousness, seeing that we will be inseparably united to the Lord, who, like a spring that cannot run dry, contains within himself all fullness’.
Perhaps the best way to understand ‘life everlasting’ is to consider it in the light of an overarching biblical theme – ‘Edenic restoration’. This phrase means God’s restoration of the world to the harmony it first knew before sin entered the scene and spoiled everything.
The Bible is the story of paradise lost and paradise restored, and the Lord Jesus is the key to paradise restored. On the cross, he wrought our redemption, dealing with the sin which prevents our fellowship with God. On a coming day though, Christ will inaugurate a cosmic redemption. ‘The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21).
The Christian’s future prospect then is fellowship with God in a redeemed body and redeemed universe. Everlasting life will entail dwelling in God’s nearer presence and having eternal fellowship with him, free of all hindrances.
So, the Christian’s future is brighter than bright, for it is inextricably connected with the gospel of Christ. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).
The author’s book I believe – The Apostles’ Creed simply explainedis published by Day One (ISBN 978-1846252013)